Foot Fetish

Dear Helena,

Many people require you to take your shoes off when you enter their house. I have a big problem with this. I have really freakishly short legs, and when I go to a party, I always wear heels. I don’t feel pretty unless I’m wearing them. I’m sure I’m not the only one with these insecurities. Why can’t people just relax and get a little dirt on their floor for the sake of their friends’ comfort and sanity? —Shoe Fly

Dear Shoe Fly,

Just as restaurants can refuse service if you come in shoeless, people have the right to ask you to remove your footwear in their homes (particularly, of course, if your shoes are muddy or wet). In many Asian cultures, guests are expected to remove their shoes. Masahiko Minami, professor of Japanese at San Francisco State University, explains how the custom originated in Japan: “In traditional homes, you sit and sleep on the floor, on tatami mats or cushions, so it’s very important to keep the floor clean. Also, historically, Japanese people wore slippers or clogs, and it’s much easier to just slip those off than to unlace your shoes.” Today, many Westerners have adopted the custom of asking visitors to remove their shoes.

Bad idea, in my opinion. Shoes do bring dirt into the house, but cleaning the floor is just one of the chores you have to do after entertaining, like collecting empty beer bottles. When your guests arrive, they want you, the host, to take their coats and offer them a refreshing drink. They don’t want to fumble with their footwear like they’re in line for an airport security checkpoint. For many people, particularly ones with ugly feet or smelly socks, going shoeless can seem too intimate. “Some people feel exposed. It feels like taking off some of your clothes,” says Whitney Van Nouhuys, a Berkeley, California, psychologist who maintains a “shoes off” household.

If you’re going to host a gathering and request that people take their shoes off, at least give them a heads-up. Recently I went to a dinner where the hosts asked me to remove my red boots, explaining: “The floors are bamboo laminate, and we don’t want to diminish the resale value of our house.” Not only was I instantly depressed by the mention of real estate; I also had to sacrifice an essential part of my outfit and expose my shabby socks.

But let’s face it: There’s no such thing as sexy socks. This doesn’t matter if you’re hosting a family gathering, but in my view, it’s something to consider if you’re throwing a cocktail party. Slip on a pair of stilettos, and you’re immediately in the mood to drink and flirt. Strip to your socks, and you’ll be craving cocoa and board games.

Those wishing to establish a shoeless home might consider stocking up on inexpensive pretty slippers. They’re not as provocative as stilettos, but they’re a lot hotter than socks.

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